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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks had plenty of reasons to hang on to Adam Gaudette, and no good reason to trade him

You almost certainly didn’t miss the Trade Deadline deal that sent Adam Gaudette to the Chicago Blackhawks, and you would have had a tough time escaping the immediate online backlash that followed.

For those of us cursed with Vancouver Canucks fandom, this is nothing new. GM Jim Benning’s tenure has been controversial, to put it mildly, and this season has been his most controversy-strewn yet. At this point, every single move Benning makes is going to be scrutinized heavily and draw its fair share of criticism, valid or not.

But this time is different. This time, there’s really no two ways about it. This was a senseless transaction, a real “high risk, no reward” sort of situation. It was a trade in which the best outcome appears to be “neither player really pans out.”

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And for those who still believed in Gaudette as a player, of whom there are many, that’s just unacceptable. Heck, even those who have lost all faith in Gaudette should still be complaining about this one.

Simply put, Benning and the Canucks had plenty of reasons to think Adam Gaudette was worth hanging on to for at least another season, and no compelling reason to part with him at this exact juncture.

The Development Factor

The Canucks drafted Gaudette in the fifth round, 149th overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He proceeded to put together a stellar three-year run with Northeastern University, culminating in him being awarded the 2018 Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the best player in the NCAA.

By that point, he’d already exceeded expectations for an average fifth-round pick.

After a five-game audition with the Canucks to wrap up 2017/18, Gaudette was assigned to the Utica Comets to start his rookie pro season — but he didn’t stay there long, earning a recall after 11 points in 14 AHL games.

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Three seasons later, he’s only been back in Utica for two games in 2019/20.

So, all told, the Canucks have already poured a draft pick, five-and-a-half years of development, and a couple million dollars into Gaudette.

Now, if you’re logically savvy, you’re probably already shouting something about a “sunk cost fallacy.” And you’d be right to point out that having already spent resources on a player is not necessarily a reason to keep spending resources on that player.

But the Canucks have already got plenty out of this particular investment.

The Track Record Factor

Gaudette’s rookie NHL season was a struggle, with just 12 points in 56 games. But then he exploded for 33 points in 59 games as a sophomore, and that’s actually pretty significant.

For one, it’s a lot more production that the average fifth round draft pick ever puts up. To wit, even after his regression this season, Gaudette still ranks 35th in scoring for his draft class. Only two players drafted after Gaudette in 2015 have put up more points: Andrew Mangiapane (166th overall) and Markus Nutivaara (189th).

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Which is all to say that, thus far, the Canucks have definitely received an above-average return from the developmental investment they’ve made in Gaudette.

Yes, he disappointed in the bubble, going pointless in ten postseason games, and was producing at a rate in 2021 even lower than that of his rookie campaign.

But his track record certainly suggests Gaudette is capable of doing more, and there’s even a pretty understandable reason for his regression available.

The Weight-Retention Factor

As 2021 training camp opened up, Gaudette went public about a medical condition that made it difficult for him to digest full meals without hurling. That made it next-to-impossible for Gaudette to put on and retain weight, and that obviously had an impact on his on-ice performance.

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But consultation with a nutritionist and an altered diet seemed to solve the issue. Between the offseason and midseason, Gaudette had put on at least ten pounds, and was in the self-described best shape of his life.

One wonders what a full offseason of weight gain and muscle amassment would have done for a player all too often pushed off the puck.

Even a moderate improvement in Gaudette’s overall game brought on by greater health might have made a massive difference, too, because he didn’t seem all that far off from effectiveness.

The Expected Goals Factor

Our own Chris Faber has been beating this drum all season long, but apparently not loud enough for the Canucks’ front office to hear.

There were a number of underlying metrics that suggested Gaudette was generating far more offence than his raw point total would indicate, chief among them his Individual Expected Goals stat.

From NaturalStatTrick

Here, Gaudette ranked fourth on the Canucks, behind just Nils Höglander, Tanner Pearson, and Bo Horvat.

Sure, ixG is far from a perfect metric, and you might notice some strange names like Jake Virtanen and Jay Beagle fairly high up that leaderboard, too.

But not as high as Gaudette. Even better, the ol’ “eye-test” actually backed up what the numbers were saying.

Most would agree that Gaudette has been snake-bitten this season, always seeming to come this close to scoring or setting up a goal, only to see the puck stay on the wrong side of the goal-line. He’s often very noticeable on the ice, even when he’s not scoring, and the puck usually seemed to be moving in the right direction when it was on his stick.

To go back to the numbers briefly, Gaudette’s 5.66% shooting percentage in 2021 certainly supports the snake-bitten narrative.

To many, Gaudette looked like the classic case of a player just on the cusp of putting it all together and breaking out.

Would he ever turn those expected goals into actual goals-goals?

Maybe, maybe not.

But if he does, he’ll be doing it in Chicago.

The Low-Sell Factor

We can keep this one short and sweet.

The most basic tenet of asset management is to “buy low, sell high.”

By moving Gaudette after his production has bottomed out, the Canucks ensured that they would not get much value in return for him.

If they were determined to trade him, it’s hard not to think about what they might have received if they’d sold high after that 33-point season.

And by getting rid of him before his RFA status wore out, they’re giving up on any chance of selling high that may have been yet to come.

The New Coach Factor

Through parts of four NHL seasons, Gaudette has played under exactly one head coach: Travis Green. And, aside from 16 games with the Comets and Trent Cull, that’s the only coaching Gaudette has received in his professional career.

Right now, it’s pretty tough to imagine the still extension-less Green continuing beyond this year.

Given that, and given all the evidence listed above of a Gaudette bounceback/breakout, wouldn’t it make sense to at least wait and see if a different head coach could get more out of him? Or if a different system more suited his style of play?

Either way, we’re about to find out.

The Fan Favourite Factor

The outcry over Gaudette’s departure isn’t solely attributable to his hockey talent. Over the years, he’d slowly-but-surely developed into a bit of a fan favourite, even through his ups and downs. There was his trademark enthusiasm, his ebullient cellys, and his clear-cut passion for the game.

There was also his off-ice conduct to consider.

Gaudette thought enough of his fans to connect with them via his Twitch stream. He thought enough of the Vancouver fanbase to reach out to and support local podcasts, including the Broadscast and their iconic “Micaela Gaudette’s Husband” merch.

He also thought enough of us that he felt it necessary to clarify some unfortunate political tweets from his youth, not because he was looking for redemption or a pat on the back, but because he felt it was important to make it clear what he did and didn’t stand for.

So, when fans say they are sad to see him go, there’s a good chance they’re talking as much about Gaudette the person as they are Gaudette the hockey player.

And, speaking of getting personal…

The COVID Factor

Here, we’ll let Benning speak for himself.

Just a few days ago, he answered media questions about Trade Deadline day with:

“I think it’s more the human side of things. They’ve dealt with a lot in the last couple of weeks, getting the virus themselves and running through families and stuff. And I just don’t think (trading them) is the right thing to do at this point in time.”

Right. So…

Clearly, that line of thinking didn’t apply to Gaudette: the first player to test positive for the virus. The player who received heaps of baseless scorn and blame from some in the market for what amounts to circumstance. The player whose spouse was harassed on social media while she and her husband battled the illness.

Strange, that.

The Seattle Factor

If there’s one defence of the Gaudette trade put forward today that makes a lick of sense, it’s that Benning made it with an eye to the 2021 Expansion Draft. Perhaps Benning, knowing that he wasn’t going to protect Gaudette, dealt him for something now rather than lose him for nothing to the Kraken this summer.

Except, that actually doesn’t make all that much sense.

Gaudette or not, the Canucks still have two protection slots to use on Tyler Motte, Zack MacEwen, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich. Two of these players are still going to be exposed.

So, instead of losing Gaudette for nothing, the Canucks will probably end up losing a MacEwen or a Gadjovich for nothing.

And they’ve already lost Gaudette for next-to-nothing.

If they’d just hung on to Gaudette, even for the purposes of serving as an “expansion shield,” thus retaining one of their other forwards, that would almost certainly be more worth their while than what they actually got back for Gaudette.

Oh, and about that…

The Matthew Highmore Factor

By design, we’ve gone his far without mentioning Matthew Highmore’s name. In part, that’s because he doesn’t deserve the deluge of online disdain he’s about to receive.

Good friend Bill Huan really nailed it on this front:

But hockey is ultimately a business, and it’s our job to talk about Highmore as an asset.

And, in short, he’s an asset nowhere near compelling enough to serve as a counterpoint to all those reasons the Canucks had to keep Gaudette.

Which is not to say, of course, that Highmore has no value. Never drafted, the Canucks reportedly pursued Highmore as a free agent, but he went to the Blackhawks instead. Through four seasons, Highmore has put up great numbers in the AHL and served spot duty with the Hawks, notching a cool ten points across 73 games.

Born February 27, 1996, he’s about six months older than Gaudette.

Vancouver’s pro scouts apparently believe that Highmore has untapped potential, and they may well be right about that. Maybe he’s the next Motte, an asset that went from “we traded Thomas Vanek for who?!” to a legitimate Expansion Draft protection candidate.

But that’s undoubtedly a longshot, and either way, it’s no justification to trade a player with much higher potential for him.

If the Canucks really wanted to target Highmore, they probably could have just waited. He’s been a regular healthy scratch this season, and he’s been held out of the Blackhawks’ last four games. They just acquired Brett Connolly, a winger who definitely would have shunted Highmore even further down the depth chart.

The chances of Highmore ending up on waivers between now and opening night of 2021/22 are, well, high.

And even if the Canucks didn’t want to leave it to chance, it seems likely that they could have had Highmore thrown into the Madison Bowey trade for, at most, an extra late-round draft pick.

Or they could have, you know, moved on to target another, entirely different prospective fourth liner.

But they didn’t. They traded Adam Gaudette for him.

So, if you’re ticked off about this one, try your best not to take it out on Highmore.

But go ahead and be ticked off.